They came to nosh on pretzels, pizza and poke; shop and listen to the indie folk music of The North Code.
Strings of lights and battery powered lanterns provided illumination and the crowd, dressed in jackets, sweatshirts and stocking caps, shrugged off the 44 degree temperatures and made the first of this year’s four Madison Night Markets seem like a summer evening.
Vendors returned Thursday to West Gilman and State streets for what is being billed as “A Madison Tradition,” even though the market is entering only its third season. But the title appears to be apropos. The three markets in 2017 and four events in 2018 each drew more than 5,000 people and this year’s markets are expected to draw similar crowds, although the weather may have kept some away on opening night.
“It really has become something that people are looking forward to,” said Tiffany Kenney, executive director of the Central Business Improvement District, which organizes the markets. “It’s exciting. There’s just this cool vibe.”
Madison Night Market was born out of a Downtown retail study to stimulate retail and bring more people into the shopping district. This year’s three remaining markets are set for June 13, Aug. 8 and Sept. 12. A July event is not scheduled because of Maxwell Street Days, July 19-21.
The Night Market includes 84 vendors who showcase handmade products, local art, artisan gifts, prepackaged foods and fresh produce. The event also features live music, food carts and pop-up restaurant experiences, but has a waiting list of more than 40 vendors trying to get in, Kenney said.
Karen Tardrew parked her mobile Grasshopper Goods retail shop on West Gilman Street south of State Street. The 28-foot-long, 1977 Chevy step van named “Vinny” was filled with not only jewelry, clothing, handbags and artwork but also shoppers who entered the van via steps at the back of the truck and exited at the front to the right of the driver’s seat.
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Tardrew, who opened her business in 2017, has been at every Night Market and does about 100 other public and private events a year in Wisconsin and Illinois. She’s working with the city to seek a permit to set up like a food cart and is also hoping to get a spot in the Madison Public Market, scheduled to open in 2020 in what is now the city’s Fleet Services building at 200 N. First St.
“We can always count on the Night Market for good sales. It’s one of our top events,” said Tardrew, who lives in Madison but is a professor who teaches online education classes for National Louis University in Chicago. “Each time (the market) gets more organized and I really like the hours this year.”
The first two years, the market was held from 5 to 11 p.m. but the last hour lagged, Tardrew said. The market now runs from 6 to 10 p.m.
For Megan Porter and David Van, the Night Market is a perfect place to showcase their line of bow ties, beds and toys for cats. Porter founded Tacocat Creations in 2013 and has her products in a number of retailers in the Madison area and around the country.
Porter and Van did all four Night Markets in 2018 and are scheduled to do all four this year. The market allows them to interact directly with their customers without having their own brick-and-mortar location.
“You could argue that this is better because this avoids the commitment of such high overhead of having a business down here,” Van said. “But you’re still allowed to have the presence and this still gives you that exposure and helps grow your business.”